When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (vv. 10, 11).
Well, that’s not right, is it? The crowds heard and acclaimed Jesus in the royal, messianic categories of Scripture, calling him, “Son of David”; but when pressed they would only confess him to be a prophet from a marginal and theologically corrupt province (Jn. 1:46).
Being part of the crowd is dangerous. When conditions or information changes, often suddenly, crowds are invariably the last to move out of harm’s way.
We observed this two Sunday’s ago, when in 70 AD. devastation from the Roman eagle would imminently descend on Jerusalem. The Christian church (Lk. 21:20, 21) aware of the sign fled to safety, while the synagogue remained to suffer Divine wrath.
Today we ponder Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, that moment in salvation history when all God’s salvific purposes would be manifest. The answer to the “Holy City’s” question, “Who is this?” was, as today, pivotal to security and well-being.
Shakespeare (The Tempest) observed of a murder plot that, “past is prologue”; the observation is more true this First Sunday in Advent. Jesus’ triumphal entry caused Jerusalem’s populace to be “shaken”.
The City’s turmoil was a redux of 33 years earlier, when magi, following a star, entered Jerusalem to inquire of its infant king. “When Herod the king heard this, he was shaken, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt. 2:3). Jesus in Bethlehem was delivered upon Jerusalem’s doorstep. At the news, Herod set out to kill his rival at his weakest; “past is prologue”.
In like humility, today’s Gospel has Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem for his killing. In the tradition of servant kings, Jesus came for investiture among shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
What is the problem? In his Nativity Jesus came to his people causing all Jerusalem to “shake”; in today’s Gospel he rides into Jerusalem, anointed Son of David, for an investiture into his reign causing the “Holy City” trouble and distress. Both appearances, separated by 33 years, portended radical change in Jerusalem’s relation to God. On both occasions Jerusalem intended to be shed of Jesus.
Of the Nativity Micah prophesied, “And you, O Bethlehem…are by no means least…for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (2:6); of which Zechariah’s prophesy finds fulfillment, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey...” (21:5).
How do we receive Jesus’ coming today; with “Hosannas” for a king whose identity is inadequately known? Perhaps and if so, we share a problem with Jerusalem. The City’s and our on-going distress is implicit in their question, “Who is this?”
Do we know the king whom we confess? To be sure, the scriptural titles applied to Jesus from the crowds were well employed; and yet their conclusion that Jesus was a Galilean prophet was dissonant and incomplete; on that level, Jesus is problematic among “Christian” crowds today.
An example of this dissonance, is suggested from James and John prior to entering Jerusalem as they vied for positions of power in Jesus’ kingdom, secretaries of State and of War (Mt. 20:20, 21). Jesus corrected their misapprehension of the apostolic office and its authority, informing that they would be invested into his Service by a baptism like his, in fire, destruction, and judgment.
Their baptism would be to drink the cup of his suffering that he would soon institute in the Holy Supper (Mt. 20:23; 26:27, 28) and delivered to them in his flesh by the HS (Jn. 20:22). If at the time James and John were ignorant of the Supper, the cross, and the nature of their office among the people, it would all be made clear in the Resurrection.
Contrasted with the venality of James and John, on leaving Jericho for Jerusalem two blind men addressed Jesus, “Son of David” seeking mercy from the king (Mt. 20:30); unlike “sighted” James and John, the blind men understood Jesus as coming into his kingdom not for the exercise of worldly power but for mercy.
Jesus asked these blind men the same question he asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” (20:21; 32). The two blind men did not seek authority in a kingdom of glory, rather grace in a kingdom of God’s mercy, specifically that Jesus would open their eyes.
At Jesus’ touch physical sight was restored, but more importantly spiritual sightedness was bestowed for them to enter onto the Way of his investiture and reign at the cross. This is the work of the HS.
As with the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Christians pretty much use all the correct titles for Jesus; but as the church brings forth the fruit of the cross in word and Sacrament, Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, we are confronted with questions; what kind of king do we receive; and what kind of king is it that troubles so many “Christians” at his invitation to follow in self-sacrifice?
St. Paul admonishes us, “[P]ut on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). This is the kind of king the spiritually sighted are called to follow; who looks only to God for our provision. Christ’s kingdom is foreign to our flesh, shaking the earth under our feet; and by nature we would be shed of this kind of king.
If Bethlehem is prologue of the cross; then the cross informs our celebration of the Nativity. From Jesus’ triumphal reign between thieves, we survey with spiritual sight the Christ Child’s humility come for merciful forgiveness.
Into Bethlehem, on Jerusalem’s precipice, Jesus came to his own without place to lay his head other than upon his mother’s breast and sanguine heart; her shared flesh was all God deigned to provide Jesus in this world; even as he shares his own breast and heart with his Son in his kingdom of atoning blood (cf. Lk. 16:22).
On arriving in Jerusalem Jesus was fêted by an uncomprehending crowd. In the end they rejected him. Finally, coming to the place, Golgotha, where all provision for his flesh was stripped away.
On the cross, Jesus was as naked as the day of birth, bereft of dignity and heaped with shame. His disciples scattered; he gave his mother to another, and experienced his Father’s abandon; in this manner Jesus was God’s raised Serpent for sin for love of the world (Jn. 3:16).
God made no provision for his Son’s flesh; except in the Resurrection for our feeding this Lord’s Day. This is the Kingdom into which we are baptized; where for love, the greatest is humble and servant of all; and Jesus crucified and risen is the fulness of our inheritance, adopted sons and daughters of the Father. Amen.